Probably about a month ago from this writing I was explaining how I was beginning in my path down Open Source, a revelation from my previous job.
Well, now I am in! Actually I took a head first dive.
(this post may be longer than usual)
Saying that, let me tell you all what I did, give you some specs, and tell you some hardships.
Here is my physical computer details:
Dell Dimension L667
Pentium III 664 MHz
120GB hard drive
(pretty standard computer, with necessary components 'ex. integrated ethernet, VGA monitor, etc.)
Now this is where I get a little overkill, but I truely wanted to see which linux distribution to use based on its flexibility, beginner usability, and documentation-support.
My father bought me VMware Workstation 5 for my Windows XP (thanks dad), but I also created a dual boot using GRUB (Grand Unified Bootloader).
VMware made it a breeze to configure settings like how much RAM usage to allocate, hard disk space, audio, ethernet, all with a simple gui (graphical user interface). What is also nice is that since I do not have a cd burner, I didnt have to get someone to burn me cd's of the images for the different distributions because you can set the path to where the 'iso' is located on your host operating system (OS) I will like to mention that Ubuntu sends FREE, and yes I said FREE, cd's to anyone who asks, which I also have 4 sets. They ship in attractive packaging and contain the live CD (to run from your cd drive) and a 1 disk installation cd.
So, with the ease of VMware, I proceeded to install Fedora Core 4, Ubuntu Breezy Badger, Gentoo, and Mandrake based on some internet reviews and recommendations from friends, familiy, and IT professionals.
For each OS, I allocated 10GB of space and pretty much used the default config for each. One really tricky thing did not have anything to do with the installation, but actually getting the VMware tools installed on each system because I have an older video card so my screens (after the install) were 640X480 and not rendering properly. Compounding that it was hard to view the screens and my beginner status, it was very difficult realizing that I couldn't just double click on something and have it install it. In Fedora, I had to use the rpm and Debian based, I had to unpack and compile using the tarball file. After installation of the VMware tools, however, everything worked smoothly.
The dual boot was easier than I thought! When you install MS Windows, it takes up the whole hard drive, so you have to shrink it. After reading some, and installing Mandrake Linux, I discovered that Mandrake has a nice gui utility that lets you graphically shrink the windows partition. So I did that, then installed Fedora Core 4, removing all other linux partitions. This worked well and fast.
After testing out each OS, I dropped Mandrake and Gentoo for now, and concentrated on Fedora Core 4 and Ubuntu Breezy Badger because after using them all, they seemed the easiest to use and have the largest base of support forums and tutorials. My father is also Red Hat certified, so my choice of Fedora might be a little biased since I have on-demand support whenever.
Seeing this as a long-term investment, I also bought some books for reference as well as guides to aid me. I will note though that you can also find everything in these books somewhere online for free; it just takes some looking and printing if you want to read while you are away from a computer.
I am also a big fan of O'reilly books because they seem really easy to understand and provide lots of content.
I bought (keeping in mind my desire to use a lamp architecture):
Running Linux 5th ed.
Linux in a Nutshell 5th ed.
MYSQL in a Nutshell
Information Dashboard Design
Apache: The Definitive Guide
Web Service Essentials
A long list, I know, but they have already helped me so much.